Featured image: Scenes from London!
Hello, kind reader! This will be my last post documenting my experience studying abroad! Are you ready? Let’s begin dissecting my experience 🙂
- When I first arrived, I was honestly scared! I definitely felt like I was an alien who had recently plopped onto a mysterious portion of Earth. How could I get to Kelvinhaugh Street? Where were my accommodations? I had not yet purchased a SIM card. The handy-dandy Google Maps was not in my hands–I came to appreciate the era that we live in. In a world full of technology, we are knowingly or unknowingly shaped by these small devices. Life has been made more efficient, but what happens when our iPhones are no longer in use? From this moment on, I stepped towards my goal of becoming more flexible. Growing up, I never really asked anyone for help, and always wanted to figure things out on my own. I realized that I couldn’t do everything by myself after coming here. I spoke with strangers, asked them for directions, and politely thanked them for their quick and sound advice. Though our interactions were small, these strangers were super friendly, leaving me to feel more harmonized with the new planet I landed on.
- Before classes began, I was met with a student visa issue. I had to leave and re-enter the UK because I had gone through e-gates without seeing an immigration officer. Though it was quite stressful as this happened right before classes began, I am happy it did because my experience traveling to Berlin taught me how to use my limited resources. First, I remembered worrying about where to live, and thankfully my friend Mari offered me to stay in her apartment for a night. Thank you Mari <3. I admit–I am conservative with money as a first generation, low-income student. Worrying about where to live reminded me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where my physiological needs for shelter was on the line. Though my life is drastically different from those who live in developing countries, it made me think about what migrants, refugees, internally displaced people might be going through and feeling in times of war and conflict. This thought propelled me to do something within my reach, and that was starting a student chapter of Doctors Without Borders at Vassar. It was around time when pre-organization applications were to be filled at Vassar. I took some time to write a Constitution, created a spreadsheet to let those who were interested in joining to sign, sent out emails to find a team, and posted on all my social media accounts. Since I was abroad, I couldn’t meet the team I gathered and created in person, so we used Google Hangouts. It was surprising to me that people were as passionate as I was for this global health movement–it motivated me even more. Overall, this worrying-for-shelter experience made me think of those who are less fortunate, and thereby galvanized me into action. Secondly, transportation in Germany was another hill to climb. There was a language barrier–I couldn’t read or understand the signs. Thankfully the German orthography looked somewhat similar to English letters. I’d pair the street names from my Google Maps screenshot (they were screenshots because I couldn’t use my SIM card that I’d bought in the UK in Germany) to the street signs I encountered in person. Germany was indeed beautiful. Merlin, a friend I met at the University of Glasgow, happened to study at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the first place I laid my Berlin-virgin eyes on! We were speaking about education, and he told me how his assessments were based upon public-speaking. On his final assessments, he had to memorize a speech, and in a room with two to three other professors, he would verbalize and showcase what he learned from the course. Hearing this, I was extremely shocked! It would have been equivalent to a job or college interviews in the United States. I told him about our education system, and how most of it was exam based. This cultural exchange led me to appreciate our differences and the beauties of the world even more.
- Once classes began, I met other pre-medical friends (Kohlman, Hannah, Greg, and Victoria) who are from the States. We’d go out for Loop&Scoop (a churro ice-cream shop) and I asked them what their life stories were. I will leave them to share their own personal stories! Generally, we all encountered different life challenges (e.g. medical, socioeconomic, disability/ability, etc.), thus contributing to our fervent desire to reach our unifying goal: becoming great physicians who instill confidence in our patients. Though we are all parting ways, we might potentially meet each other somewhere down the road as we apply for medical schools. Exciting!
- I also met Moni, who is a beautiful and kind friend from London. From our first meeting, Moni and I talked about our experiences being Asian in the United Kingdom and the States, respectively. Moni would talk about how there lacks Asian curriculum in the university, and how she is working in the student government to change that. My first reaction was, “Wow, we’re working towards that goal at Vassar too!” It was motivating to hear that this movement was happening on the other side of the world. Moni will be coming to New York in January and we plan on meeting up again 🙂
- My identity as a first-generation low income student was felt more keenly in this social context. The pound is quite powerful! I kept track of my expenses in a budget sheet to make sure that I wasn’t purchasing anything I didn’t need. I allocated a lump-sum of money to purchase gifts for my loved and close ones, an experience in London, and saved the rest to invest in my medical education. Medical education seems so out of reach because of its expenses, but this will not stop me. I was curious about what percentages of first-generation students actually attended medical school and found this blog. Having read this post, I have been infused with energy to continue and tread forward.
- I did not think I would ever have the chance to personally engage and dissect a cadaver at age 20. When I first entered that dissection room, my voice didn’t want to exit my mouth. This marked a life-meets-death moment. As time progressed, I’ve become more used to the smell of formaldehyde, and took time to appreciate and dissect (haha) the education I was receiving here. Learning about all the different muscles, nerves, blood supply, and clinical relevance of the body structures made me feel a step closer towards becoming a doctor. If I want to serve low-income and underserved communities, this is all a part of the process 🙂
- Tammy from 5 years ago would never have thought that she’d step foot in the United Kingdom. Going to London was a crazy experience for me. I felt extremely free for the first time in a while. I knew that back at home, I had a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders. Leaving myself three days to breathe shed light on what sorts of experiences I wanted to gift to my parents as I mature. Since they’re so used to eating Chinese food, I bought them some British cheese for them to try. I can’t wait to see their reactions.
Overall, I’m happy I was gifted this opportunity to visit another country by Fund for Education Abroad. Thank you so much, FEA! Though it was a rough start, it was a great adaptation period. My life goals and values feel much more defined: I want to become a culturally-competent, dependable, and empathetic physician whom patients can wholeheartedly trust. As life progresses, I look forward to developing new skills that will shape me into an even more independent individual.